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Using a degree in chemistry as a foundation for a career in academia

Dr James P. Ewen talks about how his studies at Bath and industrial placement at Shell shaped his future in academia.

Dr James Ewen stood in front of Imperial College London building
James graduated from his undergraduate chemistry degree at Bath in 2014

I studied MChem Chemistry at Bath and as part of my degree, I undertook a placement as a Fuels Scientist with Shell, which I really enjoyed. My experience working with Shell led me to want to play a part in meeting our growing energy needs in a sustainable way.

Shortly before I completed my studies, Shell started a new research centre at Imperial College London called the University Technology Centre for Fuels and Lubricants. The Centre’s work focuses on developing improved fuels and lubricants, with the aim of increasing machine efficiency and helping to minimise CO2 emissions. Following my graduation from Bath in 2014, I joined the Centre studying for a PhD in Mechanical Engineering under a joint Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) and Shell Industrial Cooperative Awards in Science & Technology (iCASE) Studentship.

I am currently a Royal Academy of Engineering (RAEng) Research Fellow in the Tribology Group, which consists of about 60 people including academics, post-doctoral and PhD students. My RAEng project centres on controlling friction through molecular engineering and is helping to solve a wide range of industrially important problems using fundamental interface science.

As well as my own research, I am also the main supervisor for a PhD student and Assistant Supervisor to another six PhD students. Their projects mostly involve improving the performance of functional fluids, from automotive lubricants to shampoos and conditioners. Our work is mostly computational, using density functional theory, molecular dynamics and coarse-grained methods run on state-of-the-art supercomputers. I first encountered these techniques during my degree at Bath.

Bath is a great place to do your undergraduate degree. For me, there was a perfect balance between studying and leisure and the facilities available for chemistry students are fantastic. My time studying chemistry at Bath really instilled the fundamentals of physical chemistry that helped to shape my future academic career.

‘My time studying chemistry at Bath really instilled the fundamentals of physical chemistry that helped to shape my future academic career.’
Dr James P. Ewen MChem Chemistry graduate (2014)

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